It was a perfectly average room. The doors and windows were set so that neither dominated the off-white walls. The furniture, all done in tasteful oak, was arranged just so to keep maintain the balance around it.
The alien perched on the edge of the couch cushion, staring at Ezra with a slight air of impatience. Depending on the angle, it sometimes looked like a man, other times looked like a woman. Occasionally, the features would blur in a sort of mosaic before reasserting themselves into a combination of the two.
It wore a three piece suit. No matter how it rearranged itself it was always wearing this suit. Sometimes, the suit blue, sometimes it was grey. Once there was a bowler hat, but a few minutes later, it turned into a trilby.
“You see, Ezra,” they said, “this is the third time we’ve had to do this now, and frankly, we can’t afford to do it a fourth.”
Ezra draped himself across the chair. His clothing stayed consistent, as it had for the last five years. He favored anything in some shade of black. Jeans, shoes, shirt, hair. All black. He nodded, not because he agreed with them, but more because he wanted them to know he was listening. The speech felt vaguely familiar.
“It’s not that we disapprove, it’s just that your relationship with William is…”
“Amazing?” Ezra offered. “Dynamic? Inspirational?”
“We would use the word ‘catastrophic’,” the alien said. They fiddled with their cuff link nervously, and rested a thin hand on the arm of the couch.
“Well, I guess we’ll have to disagree on that,” Ezra said. “Anyway, I have an Algebra test in the morning, so y’know, can I leave?”
He picked some lint off of his pant leg and flicked it on the carpet. The room shimmered for a brief second as the floor heated up. There was a brief puff of smoke when the lint ignited, but then the room returned to normal.
“This is not a mater of disagreement. Every time we reset things, you and William find a way to get together. The first time, your planet was almost consumed in a nuclear conflagration that would have eliminated the species.”
“Guess you’re still working on that one,” Ezra muttered.
“Yes, it’s an ongoing problem,” the alien replied while consulting their notes. “It says here the second time, your planet would have been destroyed by an environmental catastrophe. A chain of volcanoes erupting all at once, apparently.”
Ezra shrugged. “What, were you on vacation that week?”
“The nebulae in the Andromeda Galaxy were especially nice,” they replied.
“So what is it this time,” Ezra asked. He was upside down in the chair now, his legs hanging over the back while his hair hung to the floor. “Did my boyfriend and I make the sun go supernova? Or somehow cause a meteor to crash into the planet?”
“No, nothing like that,” the alien adjusted their posture to sit a little more upright. “On September 17, 2018, assuming circumstances go unchanged, a plague will wipe out all life on the planet.”
“Seems fair,” Ezra said. “So how does this work? You reset things again, and just hope that this time I don’t meet Will and everything stays normal?”
“We’ve run some numbers,” the alien said, handing over a sheet of paper. It was covered with formulas and some scribbled alien letters. Ezra nodded like he understood it. “The odds of planetary demise decrease by 99% if you and William never meet.”
“But I love him,” Ezra replied, crumpling the paper up into a ball and tossing it onto the floor where it began to smolder quietly. “He loves me. Have you run the numbers on that? On actually finding someone who loves you?”
The alien shook their head. “We had not thought to run those numbers, no.”
“The odds are astronomical,” Ezra said. He waved his fingers in the air a little to illustrate the point.
Now the alien smiled. These were terms they were more familiar with. “We have studied your popular culture,” they said. “While it is a unique phenomenon, love does appear to be a relatively common condition of your species. If nothing else, you can always love a fish in one of your many seas. That is a thing that humans do, from my understanding.”
Ezra ran his fingers through his hair and wondered if Will was having any better luck with his alien. He didn’t doubt that they were telling him the truth. This conversation felt vaguely familiar, and given that he and Will had been zapped out of a heavy make-out session onto some kind of spaceship, he wasn’t really in a position to assume they were full of shit.
“Okay, so let’s say we agree to this. You reset the world and Will and I go on to live our lives. What’s to stop us from meeting up without knowing it? We live in the same part of the world, and it sounds like we’ve gotten together every other time you’ve reset things.”
“We have developed a clever plan,” the alien said with a grin that was equal parts smug and deranged. “It required permission and everything.”
“I can’t wait to hear it,” Ezra said, trying not to think of Will’s blue eyes or the wispy facial hair that he kept trying to grow out.
The alien tented their fingers in what was clearly a practiced gesture. “We will allow both you and William to retain your memories, so that you know to stay away from one another. Circumstances will be adjusted to put you in different parts of the world so that you will not be in close proximity. As long as you do not interact with each other, your world will be safe.”
“Or the world ends?” Ezra asked. “Everything gets destroyed?”
The alien nodded eagerly and leaned forward. They looked a little like a praying mantis, Ezra thought, the way their hands were folded together in front of them.
“No,” he said, after a small pause to look like he had given it some thought. “I don’t think so.”
“Mr. Guerra, I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation here. All of human life, including both you and William, would be wiped out.”
Ezra shook his head. He was sitting upright in the chair now, chewing on his thumbnail. “I don’t care about that,” he said.
“Do you know how people die during a plague?” the alien asked. “Slowly and painfully. Do you really want to do that to William? Even if you don’t have each other, you’ll still be alive. And there’s always the fish!”
Ezra sat forward in his chair and wished he had a cigarette. He was a kid from Reseda. He was supposed to be working at McDonald’s and buying shitty weed from Eric Wilson, or getting drunk on his mom’s wine with Will out at the park.
He thought about Will and felt his heart break a little. The way he had to chew each bite of food a even number of times. Or the face he made when he had a headache but refused to take medication for it. How he pronounced the word “hamburger”. All the little things that annoyed the hell out of Ezra, and made him love Will even more than he thought possible. How could he watch him die? Maybe this was the right thing. But if that was the case, why the hell did it feel so wrong?
“I get to keep my memories?” Ezra asked.
The alien leaned forward and placed a hand on his knee. “You’ll remember every last second of it,” they said.
“Do Will and I get to say good-bye?”
“I suppose that can be arranged, but I don’t know how necessary–”
“It’s very necessary,” Ezra interrupted.
The alien got up and led him out the door. Ezra followed them down a hall made of smooth metal. There were no doors or windows, and it appeared to stretch endlessly into the distance. After a few minutes, he saw another alien approaching, with Will behind them.
The aliens nodded at each other and the other one left, wandering back down the hallway. Ezra took one look at Will and knew there was no way he could go through with it. When Will pulled him in for a long kiss, they pressed their foreheads together.
“Hey babe,” Ezra said. “How was your afternoon?”
Will laughed and brushed tears from his cheeks. “I guess we’re supposed to save the world,” he said.
Ezra smiled. They held each other for awhile before the alien cleared their throat. “It’s time,” they said. “Have you made your decision?”
“No deal,” Ezra said. “Send us back.”
The alien nodded with a smile, before the realization of what Ezra said had sunk in. “You can’t be serious.”
“You said it yourself, we keep finding a way to get together. If I can’t be with Will, then I might as well be dead.” Ezra shrugged, and grabbed Will’s hand. “At least we’ll be together when the world ends.”
There was a moment of silence. “This can’t be right,” the alien said. “We’ve put so much work in. Millions of years. You have to take the deal.”
“No,” Will said, squeezing Ezra’s hand tightly. “We don’t.”
“I don’t want to live apart from each other,” Ezra said. “At least we can die together.”
The alien glared at both of them and walked off muttering something about humans and how they didn’t need their permission. Ezra and Will stood in the middle of the hall, holding hands and waiting.
“Now what?” Will asked.
“I guess they send us back, and we wait for the world to end.”
“I don’t want to die,” Will replied in a quiet voice.
The walls began to pulse a little around them, the flash growing stronger every time. Ezra pulled Will in close and kissed him. “I don’t either. But we’ll find each other, wherever we end up. No matter what happens, I’ll always be with you.”
“I love you,” Will whispered. They both closed their eyes, holding each other tighter as the pulses of light grew brighter.
Ezra could feel the light burning his eyes even through the closed lids. “I love you, too,” he said. “And that’s what they don’t understand. They’ve reset time three times to keep us apart, and it still didn’t work. That’s how strong our love is. A little thing like dying isn’t going to make a difference.”
The light was inside Ezra’s head and for a second he felt peaceful. When it faded he opened his eyes, and he was sitting on a beach on Florida, watching the sun set. Some kids were playing in the surf a few feet away. He had a thought bouncing around his head, but couldn’t quite place what it was. Something about making a difference.
The waves rolled up around his feet as the sun sank into the west. He felt sad. The sky was still the color of an old bruise, bits of purple and yellow mixed together. Something was missing, and it pissed him off. Like an itch he couldn’t quite scratch.
Ezra walked back up the beach towards the house. His parents were both working tonight, so he had the place to himself. Maybe there’d be something there that would help him remember what he was missing. Maybe something would explain why he felt a sudden urge to go to California.